“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete.” 

In our gospel today, Jesus connects the gift of joy to the gift of divine love. Jesus tells His disciples at the Last Supper that He loves them even as the Father loves them. He tells them further that they will remain in this love if they keep His commandments. Jesus then says that He has told them this so that His joy may be in them and their joy may be complete. Joy comes from love, divine love. 

In his most famous work, the Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas Aquinas explains that joy is an effect of love. We experience joy, St. Thomas says, when we are with someone we love or, if they are absent, if we at least know that they are well—physically, but especially spiritually. If there’s someone we love whom we are separated from, but we at least know they are doing well, we will experience some amount of joy because of our love, even if it is diminished somewhat by their absence. On the other hand, if we are with someone we love, but they are sick or suffering in some way, our sorrow at their condition will be lifted somewhat by the joy of at least being with them. This is pretty simple and straightforward and it makes perfect sense of our experience. Joy comes from love.

St. Thomas’ explanation also helps us understand Jesus’ words in our gospel today. Joy comes from being with someone we love. And if we remain in God’s love, then God will remain with us, because God is love. As St. John says in our second reading: “[E]veryone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.” And if God, the one we love, is with us, then we will know joy. We will know complete joy—the joy of Christ will be in us and our joy will be complete—when we love God completely, perfectly, in the life of heaven. The joy we experience now, here on earth, depends on our love for God. And, so, if we lack joy in our life, the first question we should ask ourselves is, “Do we love God?”

“If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love,” Jesus says. Keeping the commandments, keeping the moral law, as difficult as it may seem at times, is the first step to experiencing joy. Those who do not keep God’s commandments cannot say that they love God, nor can they expect to taste the fullness of joy that Jesus came to bring. God’s commandments may not always sound like good news, but they actually are, because they are the first step toward experiencing joy.

God has more joy in store for us, however, than just the joy that comes from keeping His commandments. “I no longer call you slaves,” Jesus says in our gospel, “I have called you friends.” A slave may keep his master’s commandments out of fear; a friend will keep them out of love. At times we love God with a heart of a slave, especially when we keep His commandments begrudgingly. But Jesus wants more than a heart of a slave; He wants a heart of a friend. And this means taking time to grow in His friendship, especially through prayer and the sacraments. When we see God as a friend—and not just a friend, but in fact our best friend—then it will finally make sense to us how we can experience joy even when things are not going well in life. We know from experience that when we are sad because our loved one is not with us or our loved one is not doing well, our sorrow is lifted somewhat when a friend is with us to console and comfort us. And this is what God can be for us if we love Him, not just with a heart of a slave, but with the heart of a friend. When we love God with that kind of love, He will be with us, even in the darkest and most difficult circumstances, and we will experience joy.

Finally, when we are friends with someone, we seek to love those whom they love: their circle of love becomes our circle of love as well. And when this comes to God, this ultimately means loving everyone—even those with whom we disagree, even those who do us harm. “Love your enemies,” Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, “and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your heavenly Father.” If we want to experience the fullness of joy, we must love not just with the heart of a slave or even the heart of a mere friend, but with the heart of a child—a child of our heavenly Father.

A slave waits at the table; a friend has a seat at the table; but a child is his father’s arms at the head of the table. Joy comes from being with the one we love. If we love God with the heart of a slave, we will be with Him, be He will remain at a distance. If we love God with the heart of a friend, we grow closer to Him. But if we love Him with the heart of a child, we will rest next to His heart. This is the path to joy: first be a slave of God, next to be a friend, but ultimately to be a child. If we follow this path in our spiritual journey, we will know the joy of Christ, who was not merely a slave of His Heavenly Father, nor just a Friend, but a Child: the Son of the Most High God. Amen.